The wet conditions that prevailed during the year gone by have strongly reinforced my belief in the benefits of small-scale machinery for use in the woods and around the farm.
Our four-wheel-drive (4WD) quad has proven invaluable and has been used for everything from spot spraying thistles to transporting fencing materials, carrying fodder and even rounding up livestock.
All of these tasks and more can be carried out regardless of ground conditions when a tractor or jeep would either get stuck or, worse, leave huge ruts in their wake.
We have also used the quad successfully for transporting thinnings out of the woods, towing a simple purpose-built trailer with flotation tyres which we loaded by hand.
However, as time passed and the trees increased in size, much of the felled timber became too heavy for one man to lift so we then employed contractors with low ground pressure mini forwarders to draw the thinnings to the yard for drying and processing.
These machines proved ideal and confirmed my preference for small, lightweight equipment when managing farm forests.
This line of thought was further reinforced following one unhappy experience with a large forwarder used in the woods here during a forestry demonstration.
I have always resisted cutting out full racks as I feel it is unnecessary given the size of most farm woodlands.
Too many potentially good trees are lost in the process and it is difficult to justify the expense of hiring large forwarders and harvesters when the area being thinned is below 20ha.
Last year my son decided that it would prove more economical to purchase our own mini trailer and crane and do the work ourselves.
Having checked out what was available at forestry shows and on the internet, we visited a farmer in Co Wexford who managed all his timber extraction from a 200ac conifer wood with a 35hp mini tractor and a Vahva Jussi trailer and crane.
This was a very impressive outfit, especially given the manner in which the crane allowed for fast stacking of timber in the yard or at roadside.
Some contractors in Britain were already drawing these trailers with a quad rather than a tractor so we went for that option.
This decision not only saved us money but, I feel, gives better mobility when working between narrow rows of trees. These trailers have a very clever 4WD system which, when engaged along with the quad drive, results in an 8WD vehicle that will go almost anywhere even in wet conditions without causing soil compaction.
To power the hydraulics we purchased the 5.5hp Honda power pack which sits neatly on the front of the quad and with the controls at the rear it is a simple matter to just turn around on the seat and operate the crane.
One man can now transport around 1.25t of ash thinnings from the woods, stack them in our yard and, depending on distance, remove over 50t a day and all of this without causing any damage to the standing trees or the forest floor.
Presumably if extracting conifers to roadside the output would be substantially higher.
The trailer comes with two crane options, the VJ 320 with a 3.2m reach and the VJ 400, which we opted for, and has a 4m maximum reach. Both will lift 400kg but not at maximum reach.
However, we find the extra reach very useful for stacking and moving timber around the yard and drawing it from the drying stacks to the rack for processing.
The manufacturers state that more horsepower is not necessarily better as it can result in wheel spin and consequent ground damage but the minimum recommended engine size for a quad is 500cc.
Other attachments and options include trailer 4WD which I believe is essential, a tipping box which can carry a tonne, a clam-shell type earth bucket, an earth drill and a wood grapple.
Given the obvious advantages of small-scale extraction for farm forests there are now a few contractors in Ireland using this type of equipment.
Recommended price for the trailer with VJ 320 crane including valves and rotator and grapple, 6ply tyres, and a recoil start Honda hydraulic power pack for use with a quad is €9,075 plus VAT.
The main British importers are Marshall Agricultural Engineering based in Sussex, Tel: 0044 (0) 1892770788.
They also have a sales office in Co Antrim (Tel: 048 207 32700).